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American Propaganda: It’s Purpose and Effects at the Beginning of the Cold War

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The Cold War was about America’s imperialistic need to spread our own ideology, democracy, to other nations. In order to do so, the United States had to stop the spread of communism, containment seemed like the best option, but they needed the public's support to get the money and troops needed to execute their plan effectively. The U.S. had to employ a certain amount of fear and propaganda to get the American Public behind their efforts. The following shows the official recommendations and the steps taken to convince the public that fighting communism was in the best interest of the nation and its people.

The Purpose of Creating Anti-Communist Sentiment in the interest of U.S. Imperialism

The Long Telegram

On February 3, 1946, George F. Kennan, Deputy Chief of Mission for the U.S. to the Soviet Union, sent the Long Telegram to the State Department outlining the threat and tactics of the Soviet Union, their perceived weaknesses, and his proposed strategy to defeat them. [1]

In the Long Telegram, Kennan explained that Soviet policy would be undertaken on two planes: official actions in the name of the soviet government and subterranean actions not admitted to by the Soviet government. Agencies on this subterranean plane could be expected to pose in unrelated public capacities while secretly garnering support for world communism. He said they would also try and influence national associations that could be easily affected, such as: “labor unions, youth leagues, women's organizations, racial societies, religious societies, social organizations, cultural groups, liberal magazines, publishing houses, etc.” [2] I believe the threat of this subterranean plane decidedly influenced the beginnings of the second red scare. Since the U.S. was fighting an ideological war, any free speech, speaking out against the government, especially by any of the above-mentioned groups, could have easily been seen as soviet infiltration and influence.

According to Kennan “In general, all Soviet efforts on an unofficial international plane will be negative and destructive in character, designed to tear down sources of strength beyond reach of Soviet control.” [2] He claimed that they would make great efforts to exploit and expose mistakes and weakness of the western powers. This would be in an attempt to weaken their power and influence and try and set them against each other. He said, “To undermine general political and strategic potential of the major western powers. Efforts will be made in such countries to disrupt national self-confidence, to hamstring measures of national defense, to increase social and industrial unrest, to stimulate all forms of disunity.” [2] Here Kennan begins to stress the importance of keeping America unified and her society healthy and prosperous. He claimed that here our “domestic and foreign policies meet.” He continued by emphasizing that, “Every courageous and incisive measure to solve internal problems of our own society, to improve self-confidence, discipline, morale and community spirit of our own people, is a diplomatic victory over Moscow.” [2]

Kennan was steadfast that the public needed to be educated about the realities of the Russian situation. He said the press was not enough and that the government should take over the responsibility because they were better equipped to handle the release of information. [2] Kennan obviously didn’t just want the American people to know of the Russian threat for their own knowledge of foreign affairs; if he had he would have let the press handle it. But because he wanted the government to be able to carefully control the release of information, I assume he saw the advantage the government would have over shaping the public’s fear and reactions. I believe that he knew that the use and release of this information was essential in creating a strong unified, and terrified, public ready to support all actions by the U.S. government to combat the “evils of communism.”

X - Article

Because Kennan felt so strongly that the general public needed to be educated on the Soviet Union's intentions, he decided to publish the information from his long telegram in an article entitled “The Sources of Soviet Conduct" from Foreign Affairs (July 1947). The only difference from his long telegram was that the information was in a civilian form, which basically meant that he included more background information. He signed the article with an “X” to keep his anonymity but it was quickly deduced that he wrote it. [3]


The Long Telegram had a large influence on the policies laid out in NSC-68. However, NSC-68 took a more militaristic approach over the economic one Kennan had suggested. While it followed the plan for containment it also called for a massive military expansion, and when the President Harry S. Truman approved it in 1950, after seeing the build up of hostility in Korea, he committed the U.S. to the largest peacetime military buildup in its history. [4]

Also outlined in the document are policies for garnering the support of the American public. It begins by stating that the American people will be forced to sacrifice “some of the benefits which they have come to associate with their freedoms.” [5] Foreshadowing the next 10 years where many American’s were forced to give up their 1st amendment right to freedom of speech.

NSC-68 also described the importance and power the American people had within the democratic process. Agreeing with Kennan’s sentiments, it said that the government must provide sufficient information regarding the situation with the Soviet Union so that “an intelligent popular opinion may be formed.” [5] The wording here, specifically the use of “intelligent,” seems to tie back into my idea that the government planned to gain control over the public, and their votes, by carefully releasing information that created the ideas and/or fears the government wanted in the heads of the American people. The document furthered this idea by saying that it was important to “keep the U.S. public fully informed and cognizant of the threats to our national security so that it will be prepared to support the measures which we must accordingly adopt.” [5] And we see that the “intelligent popular opinion” is not necessarily the one that made the most of sense, but rather the one that the government considered correct or that they needed the public to “accordingly adopt.”

The idea was that by shaping the minds of the public, the government and its people could stand together as a solid unified force. NSC-68 said that the government “cannot afford in the face of the totalitarian challenge to operate on a narrow margin of strength.” [5] As Kennan also noted, without a strong unified public behind the government, containment would not work. The people needed to believe that it was the best option and they had to approve/provide the leadership, funds, and troops to that end.

The Truman Doctrine

Kennan’s ideas about Containment inspired the Truman Doctrine, given by President Truman on March 12th, 1947. In his speech, Truman outlined his plan for American’s foreign policy in regards to the Soviet Union and the communist threat. Here he officially introduced the policy of containment as the solution. [6]

Containment was the American government’s response to the Domino Theory, not named until Eisenhower popularized it in 1954 as justification for further U.S. action. [7] The idea was that if one nation fell to communism, it would act as a catalyst, causing many more to follow. Truman explained to the American people that following this policy of containment would require the U.S. to be ready to stop the spread of communism at any moment, no matter the costs. But he assured them that it was in the service of fighting a much greater evil and that America would be helping to protect and ensure democracy and freedom to less fortunate peoples everywhere. [6]

Truman explained all this information to the American people, just prior to stating that the U.S. would be giving aid to Turkey and Greece in an effort to stop the spread of communism in their respective countries. [6] This is a perfect example of the U.S. government releasing information to the people in a way that convinced them to agree with the government’s next imperialistic move. In fact some historians believe that the anti-communist feeling created by the Truman Doctrine made the ensuing red-scare and McCarthyism unavoidable. [8]

The ideas laid out in the Truman Doctrine would later be used as justification for the Marshall Plan, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War.

Propaganda in the News: The Second Red Scare

Executive Order 9835 (The Loyalty Order)

On March 22nd, 1947, just two weeks after delivering the Truman Doctrine, President Truman signed Executive Order 9835, aka The Loyalty Order. It established the first loyalty program in the U.S. to investigate possible communist influences in the government. Loyalty boards were formed to investigate federal employees and screen applicants. The FBI was authorized to run name checks and do extensive field investigations if there was a possibility of disloyalty. Also created the Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations (AGLOSO) as a guide for the loyalty boards. Published in December 1947, the list was massively publicized in the media. Many people viewed it as a definitive list and public organizations used it as grounds for discrimination. [9]

An excerpt of the order states that communism is “a world-wide revolutionary movement whose purpose it is, by treachery, deceit, infiltration into other groups (governmental and otherwise), espionage, sabotage, terrorism, and any other means deemed necessary, to establish a Communist totalitarian dictatorship in the countries through the medium of a world-wide Communist organization.” [10]

The order appears to be a response to the warnings Kennan gave in his Long Telegram, and it seems that its delivery in conjunction with the Truman Doctrine was designed to show the American people that not only was their government was being pro-active, but also that there was a real threat of communist infiltration in the government.

Some historians blame Truman’s over zealous need to safeguard the U.S. from communist threats for starting the “great wave of hysteria” that overtook the nation. As many as 6.6 million people were investigated, and no cases of espionage were found, but about 500 were dismissed for “questionable loyalty.” Even though no real proof was ever shown for why these employees were dismissed, the effect it had on the American people, showing them an image of their government full of spies, was profound. [7]

House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)

The House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) became a permanent fixture in 1946 to investigate threats of subversion to the American Constitution. As the threat of communist infiltration grew, the committee turned specifically to the investigation of communist subversion. The committee was responsible for starting the Hollywood Blacklist in 1947. They are probably most famous for the trail and conviction of the suspected soviet spy, former State Department foreign policy advisor, Alger Hiss. The case only furthered the American public’s fear of soviet infiltration in the U.S. government. [11]

According to an article from the Harvard Crimson: “In the fifties, the most effective sanction was terror. Almost any publicity from HUAC meant the 'blacklist.' Without a chance to clear his name, a witness would suddenly find himself without friends and without a job.” [12] The HUAC had both those who wished to speak or act out and the general American public equally terrified for different reasons, but the effect was the same: the U.S. government was effectively polarizing the nation against communist ideology and building a strong majority to support any anti-communist action by the U.S.

Hollywood Blacklist

The Hollywood blacklist was a list of screenwriters, actors, directors, musicians, and other U.S. entertainment professionals denied employment based on their suspected involvement or association with the American communist party and/or their activities. [11]

On November 25, 1947 the first blacklist was initiated. The day before ten writers and directors, called the Hollywood 10, were cited for contempt of Congress for refusing to give testimony to the HUAC. The question they refused to answer: "Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?" [13] At the time it was not illegal to be a member, and most had been or still were members of the Communist party.

The paranoia continued when the HUAC tried to extract names from the accused of fellow sympathizers. On March 21, 1951, actor Lionel Stander was effectively blacklisted after his name was simply spoken by another actor, Larry Parks, during his testimony before the HUAC. [14] Even “Friendly witnesses,” people who names names, an option some took to save themselves, even if they had to make up names, were blacklisted. [15]

The blacklist ruined careers, lives, friendships, and families. Screenwriter Richard Collins, after being blacklisted, became a friendly witness, and divorced his wife, actress Dorothy Comingore, who refused to name names. He took custody of their young son in the process. [16]

Walt Disney was called before HUAC on October 24, 1947. The following is an excerpt from his testimony:

SMITH: And is it your opinion that that strike was instituted by members of the Communist Party to serve their purposes?
DISNEY: Well, it proved itself so with time, and I definitely feel it was a communist group trying to take over my artists and they did take them over.
SMITH: Do you feel that there is a threat of communism in the motion-picture industry?
DISNEY: Yes, there is, and there are many reasons why they would like to take it over or get in and control it, or disrupt it, but I don't think they have gotten very far, and I think the industry is made up of good Americans, just like in my plant, good, solid Americans. My boys have been fighting it longer than I have. They are trying to get out from under it and they will in time if we can just show them up. [17]

The HUAC had intended to find evidence that Hollywood was sending out communist propaganda in their films through these hearings. However, after all the hearings nothing was ever proven, and the industry was never the same. People like Disney tried to take advantage of the communist threat, making it the scapegoat for his employee’s unrest. I know many people lived in fear of being accused of being a communist, because what can you do to dispel a rumor about your ideological beliefs other than deny it?


McCarthyism has become a term that stands for more than just the investigations led by Senator McCarthy himself. In fact now the heading of McCarthyism has become synonymous with the entire red scare and all of the accusations investigated by the numerous committees over the era. The following looks at the events actually linked to Senator McCarthy.

The HUAC went to extreme measures to try and find information. But I wonder how much of this was over genuine fear of communist infiltration? I believe it worked as propaganda to keep the American public scared, but I think it also started to become a means of power for some politicians. I believe Senator McCarthy capitalized on a vulnerable nation with his investigations to discredit his fellow politicians, garner public support and thus further his political power.

On February 9, 1950, Senator Joseph McCarthy told the Republican Women’s Club of Wheeling, West Virginia, “While I cannot take the time to name all of the men in the State Department who have been named as members of the Communist Party and members of a spy ring, I have here in my hand a list of 205 that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who, nevertheless, are still working and shaping the policy in the State Department." [18] He was never able to prove this claim but he received a lot of national attention for his accusations.

McCarthy sent President Truman the same information, two days after his speech in Wheeling, and in a draft of his response, Truman said that he didn’t feel McCarthy was fit to work in the U.S. Government. He also said that in his 10 years in the senate he had never “heard of a Senator trying to discredit his own Government before the world.” [19] I think here Truman began to see that his plan, to spread fear in the American public of communist subversion, was backfiring. I believe Truman, possibly accidentally, set off wide spread paranoia and a full on witch-hunt, even by his fellow politicians.

Senator McCarthy became the head of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations in 1953 and 1954. The committees intended goal was to investigate fraud and waste in the executive branch. But McCarthy manipulated the committee to continue hunting for communists in the government. [20] After ruining many lives, careers, and reputations, McCarthy met his downfall in 1954, when he accused the U.S. Army of having communist sympathies. The Army-McCarthy hearings were nationally televised and a large majority of the American public was disgusted by McCarthy’s bullying techniques. [21] The army lawyer, Joseph Welch, in response to McCarthy’s charge that one of his attorneys had communist ties, said, "Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness." [20] As McCarthy pushed on with his attack, Welch said, "Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?" [20] These lines essentially ended McCarthy’s career, and almost overnight he lost all of his national popularity.


Truman’s Veto of the McCarran Internal Security Act of 1950

On September 22, 1950 President Truman gave a speech that explained why he vetoed the McCarran Internal Security Act. [22] His veto was eventually overridden by congress and that law that was passed required the following: that all communist groups register with the U.S. government and the establishment of a Subversive Activities Control Board to investigate individuals suspected of un-American activities. [23]

In his speech, Truman explained the illogicality of this bill, comparing the idea of communists registering with the government with expecting thieves to register before they commit crimes. He explained that this bill would help communists by discrediting the U.S. as hypocrites. He said, “We can and we will prevent espionage, sabotage, or other actions endangering our national security. But we would betray our finest traditions if we attempted, as this bill would attempt, to curb the simple expression of opinion. This we should never do, no matter how distasteful the opinion may be to the vast majority of our people. The course proposed by this bill would delight the Communists, for it would make a mockery of the Bill of Rights and of our claims to stand for freedom in the world.” [22]

I think Truman realized how out of control the red scare and the actions of people, like Senator McCarthy, this bill was passed a few months after his speech in Wheeling, had become. He started to see that by trying to weed out subversive communist threats he was essentially censoring the American people. Truman did not back down from his stance that the communist threat was in fact very dangerous, but he promised to deal with it in a way that did not take away of the rights afforded to American citizens, especially their freedom of speech. Although his sentiments were noble, his veto was overridden, and it took several more years of hysterics, and the bulk of McCarthyism, before the American people began to rethink the witch-hunts and the red scare. Even after McCarthy and his contemporaries lost power, the anti-communist sentiments and the fears of subversion stayed with the country for a long time after. Although in the end, for the most part, Truman got his desired effect of unity and a solid, yet scared, majority to back all of the nation’s imperialistic endeavors. However, like NSC-68 warned, American’s had to give up a few precious rights, like their ability to voice their opinion without consequences, for the U.S. government to gain this power.

Propaganda in the Media


Rocky and Bullwinkle were television shows that ran in the late 50s and early 60s. The two heroes, Rocky and Bullwinkle, were representations of the U.S. fighting the two villains, Boris and Natasha. They filled the typical Russian villain stereotypes, working as secret agents, usually trying to steal something to bring back to their homeland. Even their boss, dressed in military garb, was characterized as the “fearless leader” who ruled with an iron fist. He shot workers who displeased him and did not hide his ambitions to rule the world. Typical of most cartoons the villains acted like buffoons and always lost. This television show can be seen as an embodiment of typical Cold War anti-soviet propaganda.


While the HUAC was searching for communist propaganda in Hollywood, Hollywood was trying to appease HUAC with anti-communist films. A multitude of films came our during the red scare that mocked the typical soviet image, or showed how easily a communist spy could enter into your life like the poster pictured here for "I Married a Communist!"


“Red Channels: The Report of Communist Influence in Radio and Television” was an anti-Communist pamphlet issued on June 22, 1950 by the right-wing journal “Counterattack.” The book named 151 artists in the entertainment industry of being sympathetic to communism. It also claimed to expose the spread of communist influence in the radio and television but provides very little concrete evidence. The damage however was done and Red Channels served to expand the entertainment industry blacklist, which denied employment to artist’s accused of being sympathetic to communism.[24]

Comic Books

Comic Books were a popular place to combat communism and promote anti-communist sentiment. Children often idolized the heroes and hated the villains. The government funded many of these endeavors, some writers wrote the stories on their own, seeing communism as a real threat to the American way of life.

Pictured here is the cover to “Is This Tomorrow?” created by the Catechetical Guild Educational Society of St. Paul in 1947. According to Michael Barson’s and Steven Heller’s book "Red Scared," “four million copies were printed, which would suggest a readership in the neighborhood of ten or twelve million, factoring in the normal pass-along life of a comic book”

An excerpt from the back cover of “Is this Tomorrow?”:

IS THIS TOMORROW is published for one purpose – TO MAKE YOU THINK!
To make you more alert to the menace of Communism. Today there are approximately 85,000 official members of the Communist parties in the United States. There are hundreds of additional members whose names are not carried on the Party rolls because acting as disciplined fifth columnists of the Kremlin, they have wormed their way into key positions in government offices, trade unions, and other political positions of public trust. Communists themselves claim that for every official Party member, there are ten others ready, willing and able to do the Party’s bidding. These people are working day and night-laying the groundwork to overthrow YOUR GOVERNMENT! The average American is prone to say, “It can’t happen here.” Millions of people in other countries used to say the same thing. Today they are dead – or living in Communist slavery. IT MUST NOT HAPPEN HERE!


The following are ads promoting Cold War fears:

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Works Cited

1. Breen, T. H., ed. "Goerge F. Kennan, "Long Telegram" (1946)." The Power of Words: Documents in American History: Volume II: From 1865. New York: HarperCollins College, 1996. 194-196.
2. Kennan, George F. Telegram to Secretary of State George Marshall. 22 Feb. 1946. Telegram. Truman Presidential Musuem & Library,
3. X, and George F. Kennan. "The Sources of Soviet Conduct." Foreign Affairs (1946). 21 Apr. 2007 <>.
4. Breen, T. H., ed. "National Security Council Memorandum Number 68 (1950)." The Power of Words: Documents in American History: Volume II: From 1865. New York: HarperCollins College, 1996. 196-199.
5. United States of America. National Security Council. NSC 68: United States Objectives and Programs for National Security. 14 Apr. 1950. 21 Apr. 2007 <>.
6. Truman, Harry S. "Truman Doctrine." Joint Session of Congress, Washington D.C. 12 Mar. 1947. 21 Apr. 2007 <>.
7. Eisenhower, Dwight D. Interview with Reporters. 7 Apr. 1954. 21 Apr. 2007 <>.
8. Zinn, Howard. A People's History of the United States. New York: Harper & Row, 1980. Excerpt from Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States covering the period 1945-1960. 21 Apr. 2007 <>.
9. Goldstein, Robert J. "Prelude to McCarthyism: the Making of a Blacklist." Prologue Magazine 38 (2006). 21 Apr. 2007 <>.
10. Truman, Harry S. United States of America. President. Executive Branch. Executive Order 9835. 21 Mar. 1947. 21 Apr. 2007 <>.
11. "People & Events: Cold War Hysteria." PBS. 21 Apr. 2007 <>.
12. Geoghegan, Thomas. "By Any Other Name." The Harvard Crimson 24 Feb. 1969. 21 Apr. 2007 <>. \\ 13. "Historical Document: Excerpts From HUAC Hearings." CNN Cold War. 21 Apr. 2007 <>.
14. Doherty, Thomas. Cold War, Cool Medium: Television, McCarthyism, and American Culture. New York: Columbia UP, 2003.
15. Krizman, Greg. "Hollywood Remembers the Blacklist." 50 Years: SAG Remebers the Blacklist. 21 Apr. 2007 <>.
16. Buhle, Paul, and David Wagner. Blacklisted: the Film Lover's Guide to the Hollywood Blacklist. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003.
17. "Historical Documents: Walt Disney Testifies." CNN Cold War. 21 Apr. 2007 <>.
18. McCarthy, Joeseph. Speech. Ohio County Republican Women's Club. Lincoln Day Dinner. Colonnade Room, The McLure hotel, Wheeling, West Virginia. 9 Feb. 1950. 21 Apr. 2007 <>.
19. Truman, Harry S. Draft Telegram to Joeseph McCarthy. 11 Feb. 1950. Telegram. Truman Presidential Museum & Library,
20. "June 9, 1945 "Have You No Sense of Decency?"" U.S. Senate. 21 Apr. 2007 <>.
21. "Teaching with Documents: Telegram From Senator Joeseph McCarthy to President Harry S. Truman." The National Archives. 21 Apr. 2007 <>.
22. Truman, Harry S. "Speech on the Veto of the McCarran Internal Security Act." 22 Sept. 1950. 21 Apr. 2007 <>.
23. United States. Cong. McCarran Internal Security Act. 1947. 21 Apr. 2007 <>.
24. "Authentic History Center: Red Channels" Authentic History Center, 21 Apr. 2007 <>\\

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